Author Archives: Lysander

Prager U: Warmonger Propagandist Machine

Prager University appears to be a fairly well-funded YouTube channel that, while outwardly expressing a faux dedication to free thought, is essentially a neoconservative propaganda machine. Consider the following video, “Should America be the World’s Policeman?”

I find this video almost comedic, as if the goal was to create a satirical piece a la Team America. The narrator of this video, Bret Stephens, at one point asks, “What stopped the Soviet Union?” The answer: ‘Merica! No further explanation is necessary. (Ironically, this seems to belie their other videos that pay lip service to the importance of free markets. According to Stephens, it wasn’t the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism that rendered the Soviet Union a basket case, but America simply being America.)

In trying to seriously consider and evaluate the points made in this video, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that it is an incredibly shallow presentation of a complex subject meant to appeal to individuals who have a severe lack of critical thinking skills. After all, flash animation accompanying narration of baseless claims draws more attention than serious study.

Admittedly, I was surprised at how Stephens began the video, asking “What’s the alternative?” to the United States being the policeman of the world. In another Prager University video defending the US’s dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the speaker was a reverend (!) attempting to justify this mass killing of civilians by favorably comparing it to only one alternative – the US infantry invading Japan – as if there were no other option. In that video, the non-interventionist position was entirely ignored. In this video, Stephens does briefly consider the idea that, perhaps, the US does not have to get involved in conflicts that have no direct bearing on the security of Americans. Such silliness is quickly brushed aside however, because “great powers…don’t get to take themselves off the terrorist target list.” Unfortunately, Stephens fails to consider other important questions:

  • Why is the US on such a list in the first place?
  • What do the bulk of US interventions (intervening in Ukraine, for example) have to do with being on the terrorist’s watch list?
  • Even if the US is on such a list, why does that preclude the US defending Americans from foreign attack?

Rather than addressing any of these questions, Stephens quickly concludes that the US must be the world’s policeman because THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE! It is simply amazing to me that he believes this is anything akin to an argument. Indeed, it is difficult to discern any actual argument being made (that is, one that begins with premises and from them draws a conclusion). Stephens simply conjures a conclusion that is in no way implied from his earlier insertions and fails to seriously evaluate alternatives.

His attempt to defend his conclusion is nothing short of laughable. Things go bad when the US leaves, says Stephens, just consider the rise of the Islamic State! If one’s goal were to create a video satirizing the incredible myopia of warmongers, they would have no need to do anything further, as Stephens has already accomplished it. Does Stephens believe that ISIS simply arose as a force of nature, and would have done so regardless of whether the US attempted to replace the previous government of Iraq? It is difficult to know what to think, as Stephens then acknowledges the ill-advised interventions in Vietnam and…the first few years in Iraq.

The other cited successes of US foreign interventionism (besides the aforementioned stopping of the Soviet Union) include the 1991 intervention in Kuwait (though Stephens seems to contradict himself here; apparently the UN’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans is worse than the US’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) and that in the Balkans. Keep in mind: these are his examples of successful interventions.

Near the conclusion of this video, Stephens attempts to demonstrate how this “Pax Americana” has benefited the world since the fall of the Soviet Union by showing how much Gross World Product had increased from 1990 to 2012. No theory of causation is provided. The Soviet Union collapsed and Gross World Product increased, therefore one caused the other. I doubt Stephens would accept such a flimsy and fallacious argument from someone with whom he disagrees. But, then again, based on the quality of the pseudo-arguments made in this video, it is difficult to say.

But if this video is so silly, why is it worth talking about? Bret Stephens happens to be an award-winning journalist and works for the Wall Street Journal. There are people who actually take him and these types of arguments seriously. And, based on the current state of US foreign policy, there is a sufficient number of people who believe these things. And this has important implications for localism.

Simply put, a bellicose foreign policy requires nationalism to feed upon. It requires that individuals think of themselves less as members of families or communities, but as citizens of nation-states; it is citizenship with the nation-state that is the critical (yet illusory) link between an individual in Idaho and events occurring thousands of miles away. They would otherwise have no relationship with one another, but we are told that serving our country is synonymous with obeying the whims of those in Washington, D.C., whatever those whims may be. Washington, D.C. does not care about Idaho or Oregon or Colorado or Utah. Washington, D.C. cares about Washington, D.C.

Furthermore, a bellicose foreign policy comes at the expense of localism because war results in centralization of political power and administration. Even though the vast majority of Idahoans were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, these events are used as a justification for federal agents to grope Idahoans or view their nude bodies whenever they fly. Same reasoning applies to federal agents viewing our emails and listening to our phone calls, although domestic spying programs have mostly been used for domestic law enforcement rather than to protect Americans from foreigners. And, ironically, with the militarization of the police, we are seeing first-hand what it means for “America” to be the world’s policeman.

The only foreign policy consistent with localism is one of peace and non-interventionism. Otherwise, we become further subject to political decision-making in DC, further taxes to pay for their wars, and further deaths of family members and neighbors who never had anything personal at stake.

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TNP Podcast 8: Localism and Secession

Samuel Wonacott joins us today to offer some challenges to the ideas of political decentralization. What is the role of individual liberty? Are guarantees of limited government enough to ensure freedom in a large polity? When is secession justified? This is a discussion you’ll definitely profit from giving a listen.

We encourage you to give your opinion in the comments. You don’t know how it warms our hearts to get your feedback.

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Donald Livingston on the Tom Woods Show

livingston-bannerRecently, Donald Livingston of the Abbeville Institute appeared on the Tom Woods Show to discuss secession and the Southern tradition. You can listen to it here.

Professor Livingston frequently writes and speaks about a topic that is heavily emphasized at The New Polis: the concept of human scale. We believe the political order in the United States (as well as most of the world) exists at a dysfunctionally large scale, where individuals claiming to have political authority over the intimate details of our lives have essentially no accountability to us. Jackson and I have mentioned several examples of how more localized decision making would provide more accountable governance, including the effect the federal government has had on the militarization of the police, the EPA’s lack of understanding of local issues, and how it would be extremely unlikely for Butch Otter to spy on our emails.

 

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The Cato Institute on Nullification

I enjoy much of the work done by the Cato Institute. I have recently been able to visit their facility and enjoy lectures by experts in different policy areas and the classical liberal tradition. However, one wonders if being too close to the Potomac fogs one’s thinking when it comes to federalism and the 10th Amendment.

In a policy analysis called “How States Talk Back to Washington and Strengthen American Federalism,” John Dinan excoriates the legitimacy of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws and tells states how they ought to properly grovel before the federal government. The paper could have just as been easily been entitled, “How States Can Beg Washington and Be Properly Subordinate.”

To be clear, Dinan is specific in what he considers nullification: a state declaring a federal law null and void. Organizations like the Tenth Amendment Center tend to be more expansive in how they use the term, including things like state noncompliance with unconstitutional federal laws, such as Missouri not allowing state and local law enforcement assist federal agencies in enforcing federal gun laws, or outright contradictory laws, such as marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. Dinan considers these latter measures not to be nullification, but legitimate uses of state power. He hopes that they will eventually lead to disputes in state and federal law being “resolved” in federal courts. Anyone who has any familiarity with federal judges and values individual freedom ought to be very skeptical that giving the federal government a monopoly in deciding disputes between itself and the states will result in a net increase in freedom.

Just consider the case of Gonzalez v. Raich (2005), where the Supreme Court decided that a woman growing medicinal marijuana for her own consumption with a license in California could be regulated by the federal government under the Commerce Clause. That is, an act that fully performed within one’s own home and involves no transactions, can be regulated by the federal government as interstate commerce. Regardless of what one thinks of the use of marijuana, one should realize that such nonsensical, Orwellian stretching of terminology in order to maximize the power of the federal government is not good for freedom or the 10th Amendment. We should put no faith in the federal courts to restrain the federal government. And yet, this is what John Dinan and folks at the Heritage Foundation would have us do.

Putting aside the historical arguments about James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the constitutionality of nullification, I find Dinan’s argument to be internally inconsistent. He believes that the constitutional method of deciding what is constitutional is through judicial review – giving the federal government the monopoly on constitutional interpretation. However, “judicial review” appears nowhere in the text of the US Constitution, nor does the Constitution grant a monopoly to the federal courts to decide what’s constitutional for the federal government to do. Rather, judicial review came about through practice; the US Constitution doesn’t really explicitly state what remedies are to be pursued when the federal government claims powers not delegated to it. In this sense, I don’t see why, when the federal government abuses the Constitution to such an extent that the republic is essentially unrecognizable, that the practice of nullification would be any less legitimate than judicial review.

Ultimately, I don’t know why supposed advocates of freedom are so quick to dismiss nullification. They argue that it’s unconstitutional, and let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is. My question is, “Why do you support the Constitution?” I would assume because it is meant to preserve freedom. But, clearly, the Constitution as the Supreme Court has interpreted it has become a justification for the US mega-state. For people like Dinan and those at Heritage, the Constitution has then morphed from a means to an end. As I argue at the Tenth Amendment Center blog, if we support the Constitution, we should also embrace the most promising means of defending it: nullification.

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TNP Podcast 6: Cliven Bundy, Public Lands, and Militia

Jackson and I discuss the issues surrounding Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy and his dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. We see this as bigger than a rancher who doesn’t want to pay grazing fees. Does the federal government have a legitimate claim to an ownership of huge portions of land west of the Mississippi? Why would militia members from out of state feel the need to come to Bundy’s defense? Have a listen and tell us what you think.

[audio https://ia902304.us.archive.org/9/items/06TNPPodcast6ClivenBundyPubl/06%20TNP%20Podcast%206_%20Cliven%20Bundy%2C%20Public%20Lands%2C%20and%20Militia.mp3]

Music Credit: Chance McCoy and the Appalachian String Band

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Are Term Limits an Admission that Democracy is Flawed?

By Tate Fegley and Jackson B. Archer

To many people, the re-election of many US Senators and Congressmen is a mystery. How could it possibly be the case that, with approval ratings nearly in the single digits, incumbents maintain control over their seats the vast majority of the time? What’s going on here? Isn’t democracy supposed to make sure “the will of the people” is being done?

Grade school presentations of democracy lead us to believe that allowing the people to vote on what politicians are in office ensures that government is responsive to their needs. But with such low congressional approval ratings, it would appear that such a naïve view of democracy isn’t entirely accurate, at least not on such a large scale as the US nation-state. Perhaps what we have here is a “democracy failure” that needs to be corrected by intervention. Continue reading

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Localism, Federalism, and the 14th Amendment

I recently wrote a guest post for an Arizona-based website called Western Free Press. The proprietor there shares many of the ideals of The New Polis and has graciously shared his growing platform so that they may have a wider audience.

What I chose to write about is the complicated issue of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and whether incorporating the Bill of Rights’ restrictions on the powers of the US Congress (or perhaps I should say ‘clarifications’ as Jefferson would argue that the power to abridge the freedom of speech, for example, was never enumerated to the federal government in the first place) to the state and local governments has increased or decreased individual liberty. I argue that the application of the 14th Amendment has unambiguously expanded the power of the federal government to the detriment of both localism and federalism. Also questionable in this shift of the balance of power between the states and the federal government is that while the federal government is seen as having the ability to overturn the decisions made by state and local governments, the common position is that state and local governments have no corresponding power to overturn the abuses of the federal government (even a Cato scholar claims that state nullification is “discredited” and “a nonstarter in the 21st century.” I will address these claims in a future post). Even so, many friends of liberty see this check on state governments an unambiguously good thing for freedom. What are we to do if the state governments violate individual rights? they ask.

One of the best analogies for this, I think, is whether one would be comfortable with the UN intervening and overturning the unconstitutional decisions of the US government. I would hope the answer for those who value individual liberty would be a resounding “No!” as even if the UN made the right decision in a few cases, it is generally anti-liberty and anti-localism. Furthermore, the times where it is wrong would be much more destructive, just as when a bad policy is made at the national level rather than the state level. It is harder to escape or mount a political battle against it. Thus, we should be wary of large, unaccountable powers that are long distances away having the ability to overturn governments that are more local, even if they may be right sometimes. The question isn’t which level of government tends to be right, but rather which one is more dangerous when it is wrong.

So, I request that you check out that post here and let me know what you think.

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